Life without parole
The ranks of Hawaii's most notorious criminals nearly triple to 48 inmates in a 10-year span
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They're Hawaii's most notorious criminals.
They killed police officers or tried to kill them. One murdered seven people.
They are among the 48 prisoners serving the state's harshest sentence of life without parole, almost triple the number a decade ago.
A 1999 change in the law that expands the no-parole life sentence is one likely reason for the increase, observers say.
Access to firearms, crystal methamphetamine and more violent crimes may also contribute to the increase.
Governors have been rejecting requests by inmates for a commutation of their sentence to life with possibility of parole. The only two who were granted the commutation and got paroled in the 1990s met violent deaths. One was killed in the 2004 Pali Golf Course shooting.
Eleven others asked for commutation, according to Hawaii Paroling Authority officials. None has been granted.
"Considering what happened to the other two, that seems to have been a wise decision," city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle says.
Prisoners serving life
Some of the 48 prisoners serving life terms without possibility of parole
Donald Lester was convicted of murder for hire that resulted in the death of his wife in 1978. He was found guilty of hiring others to kill her to get $7,000 in insurance money. He was one who asked for commutation of his sentence to life with parole. Gov. Linda Lingle turned it down in 2004.
was convicted of murdering police officer Troy Barboza, who had arrested Williams earlier in an undercover drug operation. Barboza was shot at his Manoa home three times by Williams in 1987.
was convicted of murder in the shooting of police officer David Ronk in 1987 after he tried to serve a restraining order on Pinero at a Waianae home. Pinero was found guilty of shooting Ronk with the officer's gun.
was convicted of attempted murder for shooting at a police officer during an armed robbery at the American Savings Bank in Kahala in 1999.
was convicted of murdering seven fellow Xerox workers at the company warehouse on Nimitz Highway in 1999. Uyesugi shot and killed the men in Hawaii's worst mass murder.
was convicted of a 1991 shooting-and-arson rampage that left five people dead. Ganal shot and killed his mother-in-law and father-in-law in Waipahu and later that night torched a Kailua home, killing a man and two children.
was convicted of the murder of police officer Glen Gaspar at an ice cream parlor at the Kapolei shopping center in 2003. Gaspar was one of six officers who had gone to the shopping center to arrest him in connection with an earlier shooting.
was convicted of attempted murder for running over a police officer with a stolen van at the parking lot of Honolulu Community College in 2004. The officer suffered life-threatening injuries and was in a coma for nearly a month.
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The number of prisoners serving the Hawaii's harshest sentence of life without parole has risen to 48, likely the highest for the state which does not have the death penalty.
The increase, legal observers say, is partly the result of a change in the law that allows prosecutors to seek the no-parole sentence in murder cases. Other factors, they say, include more violent crimes and the impact of crystal methamphetamine.
In addition, governors have rejected most requests by no-parole prisoners for commutation of their sentences to life with parole.
Life Without Parole
Under state law, the sentence is reserved for what state lawmakers deem the most serious crimes.
They include first-degree murder:
» Murders of more than one person.
» Murder of a law enforcement officer.
» Murder for hire.
» Murder committed by a prisoner.
In addition, life without parole can be imposed for a murder that's particularly cruel or heinous.
Other murders are considered second-degree murder, which normally carry a life term with parole. But defendants convicted of those crimes can get a sentence of life without parole under certain aggravating circumstances. They include:
» Murder by a defendant who commits multiple serious felonies or has a history of serious felonies.
» Murder by a defendant who is documented by a mental evaluation to have a "significant history" of violent criminal conduct.
Life without parole can also applied to attempts to commit first-degree murder.
Source: Hawaii Revised Statutes
The only two commutations ever granted were by then-Gov. John Waihee in the 1990s. Both men later were paroled, and both met violent deaths by gunfire in separate incidents. One of them was killed in the brazen daylight shooting at the Pali Golf Course four years ago.
Eleven other prisoners have requested commutations, but none has been granted, according to Max Otani, administrator for the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said it's understandable.
"Considering what happened to the other two, that seems to have been a wise decision," he said.
In December 1997, Hawaii had 17 prisoners serving life terms without parole.
Otani said paroling officials do not track the numbers for each year, but he believes the figure considerably increased since 2000. He said he thinks the current figure of 48 is the highest ever.
Carlisle pointed out that the spike came after state lawmakers amended the law in 1999. The change provided for the no-parole sentence for second-degree murder which normally carries a life term with parole.
The law applies to convicted murderers who have other serious felony convictions and are deemed so dangerous that the harsher sentence is required to protect the public.
Jack Tonaki, state Public Defender, said access to firearms, crystal methamphetamine and more violent crimes may contribute to the increase.
"We happen to have more incidents that have fallen in the life without parole category," he said.
Tonaki mentioned Byran Uyesugi, the Xerox worker who gunned down seven fellow employees in 1999. The slayings were the state's worst mass murder and brought the mainland phenomenon of mass murder at the workplace to Hawaii.
Carlisle agreed that the crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," problem may be a factor in the increase.
"Ice leads to violent, paranoid behavior," he said, which could escalate an otherwise routine case into a deadly one.
One example, he said, is Shane Mark, who was given a life term with no parole for the 2003 murder of a police officer at the Kapolei shopping center. Prosecutors said Mark had been using ice for months before the shooting.
Under state law, the prisoners can seek a commutation of their sentence to life with parole after they serve at least 20 years behind bars.
The commutation request is reviewed by paroling officials, the three-member Hawaii Paroling Authority, the Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General's Office before it is sent to the governor, according to Otani.
He said paroling officials consider prisoner's conduct in prison as well as other factors, such as whether the inmate has a supportive family.
The only two who received commutations are Sopo Faalafua and Lepo Taliese, who was also known as Lepo Utu. Both were sentenced to life without parole for the murder of a fellow prisoner in 1982.
In a special case and for "humanitarian purposes," Waihee granted the commutation in 1994 even before they served 20 years. He commuted their terms after questions were raised about whether the two were actually involved in the inmate's beating death.
Both were released on parole six months later.
After nine months on parole, Faalafua was killed in what authorities say was a drug-related shooting. He suffered a shotgun blast to his back.
In 2004, Taliese was one of two men shot and killed at the Pali Golf Course. A third man was critically wounded in the daylight shooting. Authorities said the shooting was the result of a feud between factions providing security at illegal gambling operations.
Carlisle said he suspects governors and paroling officials would be reluctant to look favorably on commutation requests given this track record.
Otani said paroling officials treat each request individually, but said he thinks as a result of the two cases, they are now "more thorough" in their investigations.
"We should not stop the process because of the deaths of the two parolees," Otani said.
Another 11 prisoners applied for commutation after they served 20 years, according to Otani.
Although no other requests have been granted, Otani said he sees the value of the commutation law because it provides the prisoners with hope and helps the prison manage them.
Officials can remind the prisoner that their behavior in prison will affect how the governor reviews their requests for commutations, Otani said.
"It gives the inmate a light at end of the tunnel," he said. "It's not completely shut out."
He also noted that even if the prisoners get a chance of parole after serving 20 years, it wouldn't necessarily mean they would get released right away.
The parole board has been setting the minimum term that prisoners must serve for murder convictions longer than 20 years.
For fiscal year 2007, the latest figures available, the average was 55 years for five murder defendants eligible for parole, including one case in which it was set at 100 years, Otani said.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Byran Uyesugi is serving life without parole for killing seven Xerox co-workers in 1999. Originally, this article misspelled his first name as Bryan.